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Keywords:

  • competition;
  • evolution;
  • fitness;
  • genotype × environment interaction;
  • global change;
  • grassland

Abstract

Genetic variation within plant species in their response to elevated CO2 could be important for long-term changes in plant community composition because it allows for selection of responsive genotypes. Six years of in situ CO2 enrichment in a temperate grassland offered a unique opportunity to investigate such microevolutionary changes in a common herb of that plant community, Sanguisorba minor. Plants were grown from seeds collected at the end of a 6-year treatment in either ambient or elevated CO2. The resulting seedlings were grown under ambient or elevated CO2 and with or without interspecific competition by Bromus erectus in the greenhouse for two seasons. The effect of competition was included because we expected selection under elevated CO2 to favour increased competitive ability. Elevated CO2 in the greenhouse and competition both caused a significant reduction of the total dry mass in S. minor, by 12% and 40%, respectively, with no interaction between CO2 and competition. Genetic variation in all traits was substantial. Seed families responded differently to competition, but the family × greenhouse CO2 interaction was rather weak. There was no main effect of the field CO2 treatment on any parameter analysed in the greenhouse. However, the field CO2 treatment did significantly interact with the greenhouse CO2 treatment for the cumulative number of leaves, suggesting microevolutionary change in this plant trait. Families from ambient field CO2 produced fewer leaves under elevated greenhouse CO2, whereas families from elevated field CO2 retained constant number of leaves in either greenhouse CO2 treatment. Since this resulted in increased litter production of the families from elevated field CO2 under elevated greenhouse CO2, the microevolutionary response should, in turn, affect ecosystem functions through dry matter recycling.